Today, the video-game market in Britain is worth a staggering £4 billion, with many of the world’s best-loved games produced by home-grown British talent. The origins of this thriving industry can be traced back almost 40 years when young computer programmers, some of whom were still schoolchildren, would spend their spare time creating games to provide the first generation of video gamers in Britain and around the world hours of fun and frustration.
With the introduction of affordable home computers, such as the BBC Micro and ZX Spectrum in the early 1980s, a whole new form of entertainment was opened up to a generation of children. While many parents would have brought these new machines for their children in the belief they were preparing them for an increasingly tech-savvy world, in reality, most children wanted a computer for the ever-growing range of addictive video games that were being produced.
In an issue that is sure to appeal to retro gaming aficionados, Royal Mail’s new set of stamps highlights some of the now-iconic gaming titles that were produced in Britain during the pioneering years of the video games industry.
Originally released for the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron home computers in 1984, Elite was so
popular that it was soon made available on all of the popular platforms of the era. Created by David
Braben – widely regarded as the ‘Godfather of Gaming’ – and Ian Bell, Elite is a 3D space-trading,
combat simulator in which the players take charge of a Cobra Mk III spaceship and travel through
eight galaxies in search of action, adventure and profit. Starting out with a basic spaceship and a
meagre 100-credit bank balance, the objective of the game is to amass a financial fortune by
engaging in activities such as asteroid mining and the trading of goods from star system to star
system, or more risky, morally questionable pursuits like piracy, bounty hunting and military
missions. Success in any of these endeavours earns credits that the player can use to buy
increasingly more powerful and sophisticated spaceships. These can then be used to boost a player’s
ranking from ‘Harmless’ to the ultimate goal, ‘Elite’.
Created by Andy Davidson, Worms started out as an unsuccessful entry in a programming competition ran by Amiga Format magazine. Despite not winning the competition, Davidson took his game idea to a computer trade show, where he and his game were signed up by Team17. In this simple, but highly addictive, title, players take control of a squad of ludicrously well-armed worms in order to eliminate an opposing group of worms situated on the other side of the screen. Each worm is equipped with over 20 different weapons and tools, all of which have their own unique functionalities. It is up to the player to decide how best to use these items to destroy the opposing army of worms, which adds an element of puzzling to the artillery-orientated action. With its cartoon-like graphics and amusing sound effects, Worms is a highly original game that proved very popular during the mid-1990s, and spawned several sequel titles.
Football games have been popular in gaming ever since the dawn of the computer age. One of the best-loved titles of the genre came in 1992 with the release of Sensible Soccer, which is still seen by many as one of the finest digital iterations of the sport. The game, produced by Sensible Software, featured a number of never-before-seen innovations, such as a zoomed-out, top-down view of the field, a highly responsive control scheme and an innovative ‘aftertouch’ feature, which allowed players to swerve the ball after kicking it. Sensible Soccer was an instant hit and is regarded as the classic arcade-style football game.
Developed from a simple animation experiment using the Commodore Amiga’s Deluxe Paint software, Lemmings was created by DMA Design’s Mike Dailly and David Jones in 1991. This addictive action-puzzle game, which plays out over a number of increasingly difficult screens, requires players to guide a group of lemmings safely to a clearly marked exit. However, this is not as easy as it seems, as the lemmings have a tendency to stroll unwittingly into any hazard in their path – of which there are many – from precipitous drops to pits of fire. To safeguard the reckless rodents, the player assigns different skills to the lemmings, such as a blocker that will make other lemmings turn around, climbers that will create steps over hazards or diggers that can burrow through the landscape. All must be used together to create a safe route for the lemmings to reach the exit, in order to move onto the next, more challenging level.
First produced for the Sony PlayStation console in 1995, Wipeout is a futuristic racing game set in 2052 in which players compete in the F3600 Anti-Gravity League. Developed in Liverpool at Sony Psygnosis’ offices, Wipeout features a fleet of super-fast floating craft that players use to race along tight, twisting tracks that wend their way through a series of futuristic cityscapes. As they race, competitors can pick up a series of weapons, such as missiles, bombs and mines, to use offensively against their fellow racers. As well as featuring excellent racing action, Wipeout also boasts one of the first fully licensed gaming soundtracks, headlined by leading electronic dance music artists of the mid-1990s, such as The Chemical Brothers, Orbital and Leftfield.
Initially conceived by Codemasters in 1989 as a racing game called California Buggy Boys, the company subsequently struck a deal with US toymaker Galoob in 1990 to use its popular Micro Machines toy car brand to create one of the first licenced video games. The result was a fast-paced racing game that was met with a rapturous critical reception when it was released in 1991. In the game, players take control of a miniature car and race against computer-controlled opponents in a series of small-scale racetracks. The action takes place on tracks in a variety of household settings, such as on a breakfast table, a pool table and in a treehouse. However, each course is packed with many humorous hazards, making the racing both challenging and fun.
Dizzy was one of the most successful British video game franchises of the late 1980s and 1990s. It all began in 1987 with the release of the first game, created by Andrew and Philip Oliver – better known as the Oliver Twins – who started writing games for the UK market when they were just 12 years of age.
Originally released for the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad home computers, Dizzy is a platform game in which players guide its title character, an anthropomorphic egg, through the fairy-tale land of Katmandu in search of magical items. When combined, these items form a magic cauldron, which can then be used to defeat the evil wizard Zaks. On their adventure, players have to solve a series of puzzles, collect objects and interact with other characters – all while avoiding the dangerous denizens that inhabit the game’s many screens.
In 1989, Peter Molyneux and his team at Bullfrog Productions created one of the best-selling PC games of all time – Populus. Originally released for the Amiga home computer platform, Populus is regarded as the first-ever ‘god game’ in which players assume the mantle of a divine entity and oversee the health and well-being of their followers through direction, manipulation, and a little bit of divine intervention. Players use their supreme powers to cultivate the land so that their followers can prosper, grow in strength and numbers and eventually overcome their enemy – another group of followers who have their own god looking out for them. Each player can unleash earthquakes, swamps and floods on their opponent’s followers to set back their development – resulting in an apocalyptic battle of the gods.
As well as the sheet stamps, Royal Mail has also produced a four-stamp miniature sheet (2×1st Class, 2×£1.55), featuring games from the highly successful Tomb Raider series, the first game of which was released in 1996 for the Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn and PC. Starring archaeologist Lara Croft, the original game is a grand, 3D adventure in which the eponymous tomb raider travels the world in search of the three parts of the Atlantean Scion, a powerful artefact used by a former ruler of Atlantis to create an army of mutant beings. The game was designed and created at Derby-based Core Design and was an instant success, selling over seven million copies, and kicked off a Lara Croft franchise that has spanned 17 games and three big-screen films.
Each of the four stamps in the miniature sheet shows a scene from one of the games in the popular series. These range from the Tomb Raider game released in 1996 to the latest game in the series, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, released in 2018.
1st Class: Tomb Raider (1996)
Discovered in 1996 by Lara Croft in the very first Tomb Raider game, the Atlantean Scion is a three-piece artefact whose component parts were originally held by the rulers of Atlantis.
£1.55: Adventures of Lara Croft (1998)
The 1998 game, Tomb Raider III: Adventures of Lara Croft, features the Ora Dagger, which enables its wielder to summon beasts and manipulate static electricity to create powerful bolts of lightning.
£1.55: Tomb Raider Chronicles (2000)
Tomb Raider Chronicles, released in 2000, sees Lara Croft in search of the Philosopher’s Stone, an artefact that can transmute metal into gold.
1st Class: Tomb Raider (2013)
2013 saw a reboot of the original Tomb Raider game in which Lara Croft goes in search of a variety of objects as she battles the Solarii Brotherhood and the Stormguard. These items include statues, urns and ceremonial daggers.
The envelope for Royal Mail’s first-day covers for the issue features the words ‘Video Games’ in a ‘pixelated’ typeface surrounded by key characters from the games featured on the stamps. The information card inside gives a brief overview of each of the games featured in the issue.
Miniature sheet technical details
The Tallents House postmark depicts a gaming joystick, while the alternative postmark design features the words ‘GAME OVER’ in a two-dimensional font. Sheffield has been chosen as the location of the alternative postmark as it is the home of the National Video Game Museum.
The presentation pack for the issue contains all eight sheet stamps, along with the Tomb Raider miniature stored on a separate carrier. The very retro-looking pack gives a detailed overview of each of the games featured on the stamps, with words provided by video games expert Julian ‘Jaz’ Rignall.
Royal Mail has also produced a Tomb Raider generic sheet, (described as a collectors’ sheet) based on the stamps from the miniature sheet. Ten stamps – three each of the 1st class values and two each of the £1.55 stamps – are accompanied by ten labels featuring Tomb Raider’s main character, Lara Croft, in a variety of different scenes from the games.
The 1st class designs from the miniature sheet have also been used for the accompanying retail stamp booklet. Being self-adhesive and printed in gravure, these differ from from the miniature sheet versions, which are litho and gummed.
With retro gaming fans in mind, Royal Mail has also produced a limited edition gamer’s collectors pack. This is a metal case containing a special booklet, which gives a history and overview of all eight of the featured video games, along with eight unique maxim postcards designs, one for each of the featured video games, complete with stamp affixed.